Providing people with clean drinking water and preventing plastic waste – in a nutshell, that is soulbottles’ mission.
For many, access to clean drinking water is normal. But for an unbelievable number of people, this is not the case. The sale of soulbottles therefore supports drinking water projects and draws attention to this topic. It also sets a sign against plastic pollution, which is good for our environment as well as our bodies.
A true green business and that’s why we are very happy to present you an interview with Paul Kupfer, one of the two founders of soulbottles.
We hope you enjoy reading it!
How and when did you come up with the idea of starting your own company?
The idea came up about 10 years ago. At that time, I still lived with Georg in Vienna and we had just seen the film “Plastic Planet”. From then on it was clear to us, that we no longer wanted to use plastic bottles. First, we simply filled empty wine or vodka bottles with tap water and always had them with us. However, only a few people have been convinced of this. Then Georg had the idea of being able to put designs on the bottles.
Somehow, we found out how to print on glass – and with cool designs on the bottles, we were more convinced to use glass bottles instead of plastic bottles than ever. In the beginning we just sold them to our friends.
What was your motivation and vision back then?
At that time, I was studying something very theoretical and I especially enjoyed doing handicrafts and working on something physical. As a real business model slowly developed from this, it was clear to us that we wanted to build a new type of company. It should be an organisation that motivates people to be sustainable and at the same time lives these values themselves. This also includes how to deal with each other in the company and which company structure you choose. That is why we work holacratically, for example, every employee attends a seminar on nonviolent communication and the company belongs to the employees themselves.
At that time, our vision was already megalomaniac and we want to extend the principle to other areas. We have just taken the first steps to achieve this: we have launched a funding program for start-ups that deal with sustainable solutions to the plastic crisis. There is more information about our soulincubator here.
The motivation hasn’t really changed since then! Georg is no longer in the company; he is now providing advice on alternative corporate management. I still have the vision of founding many different soul organisations and therefore mainly work in the organisational development of soulbottles.
Have there been any initial challenges?
Yes of course! We had to fully concentrate on our core business for a good seven years in order to be able to operate in an economically sustainable manner. We have faced many challenges, but also ourselves. On the way, we were able to continuously improve our product, for example today we have even better glass with a higher percentage of recycling and more powerful rubber seals that are Fair Rubber certified.
For our new steel bottles, we have started a huge project to improve the working conditions in the factory in China where the bottles are produced. We would like to see our values and an appreciative way of working with all involved producers and suppliers.
What does a typical day look like in your life today?
I work at soulbottles three to four days a week. For example, I give internal workshops on self-organisation and how to implement an entrepreneurial mindset in the workplace. I also work a lot on new concepts or products that help make the world more sustainable.
What are the most important skills and qualities to be successful in your industry?
I think that regular reflection on your own actions helps a lot to learn from mistakes. But also, to deal with your own patterns more relaxed and not to put so much pressure on yourself. Non-violent communication according to Marshall Rosenberg helped me a lot.
And I think that sometimes you have to bring a bit of naivety or madness. Only then can you really think big and dare to do things.
At the same time, you shouldn’t be too in love with yourself and be ready to reject your own ideas if they don’t work.
Do you have a secret to success?
No, I definitely do not have a secret, but a habit that I have become accustomed to over the years. For large projects, I always concentrate on the next step. This helps me to be less afraid of big projects, challenges, and problems.
How do you / your company make money?
Soulbottles is a purpose company, i.e. we do not distribute the profits, but invest them in our corporate vision or donate them. Last year we had a turnover of around 4.5 million euros. We donated over €300,000 of this to drinking water projects.
Is there anything that you think needs improvement in your industry?
Yes, especially in the area of plastic avoidance, there are still a great many knowledge gaps. At first glance, solutions that are more sustainable are not always environmentally friendly. Bioplastics are not always really compostable or only in very large plants.
Paper and cardboard look completely eco, but is often coated. I expect more critical self-examination, effective measures and less green washing from both start-ups and large corporations.
If you could start again, would you do something different?
Basically, I would do most things the same. There are of course a few findings that would have saved you expensive tuition or really embarrassing fuckups. For example, I used our own Photoshop incompetence to place our logo at an angle and then printed it on thousands of flyers and brochures. We didn’t have the money to reprint it.
What advice do you give others for their lives and careers?
I nibbled on the belief for a long time that I am only worth something if I do a lot. That naturally drove me, but it also often made me unhappy.
I have often observed this behaviour in “my generation”, but also in people who are younger than me. I think it is a hindrance for a really full life. A person’s value doesn’t depend on how much he or she does. We are all worth the same.